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Published February 09, 2010, 12:00 AM

Lind: New York’s LaGuardia visits Climax, Minn.

The community of Climax, Minn., had never seen anything like it.

By: Bob Lind, INFORUM

The community of Climax, Minn., had never seen anything like it.

An estimated 5,000 people were jammed into this town of about 250. News media from around the country were there: Fox Movietone, CBS Radio, about 40 others.

It was a day to remember, this April 26, 1946, because the former mayor of a city somewhat larger than Climax was in town: Fiorella LaGuardia of New York.

Larry Aasen, Westport, Conn., and formerly of Hillsboro, N.D., wrote to Neighbors about that day. Neighbors in turn found a story about it written by Forum reporter Mikkel Pates in 1990.

World War II had ended in 1945, but many nations were in desperate need of food because of the effects of the war and because of bad weather around the world.

The United States promised to send food, but it wasn’t producing enough to meet the demand. Flour for bread was especially in short supply.

LaGuardia decided to do something about it.

He had recently been named director general of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. Now he and then-Secretary of Agriculture Clinton Anderson would go directly to the farmers and urge them to produce more wheat.

He chose Climax as the place to do it because it was in the heart of the Red River Valley wheat-producing area.

His visit was termed the “Mercy Wheat” road show.

100-truck parade

LaGuardia and Anderson flew into Fargo, then drove to Climax.

The week before, Anderson had announced that despite the war-time price ceilings still in effect, farmers who sold their wheat and corn before May 25 would get a 30-cents-a-bushel bonus.

That went over big. So on Mercy Wheat Day, about 100 farmers drove trucks hauling 13,000 bushels of wheat to Climax where six grain cars were waiting, while another 30 trucks hauled wheat to elevators in nearby towns.

LaGuardia and Anderson gave impassioned speeches praising farmers for their efforts, but urging them to do even more.

Marillyn Letnes, 13, daughter of state Sen. Thomas Letnes, gave LaGuardia a miniature sack of wheat with a note reading, “To Fiorella LaGuardia from the school children of Polk County, Minn.”

Arnold Amundson, a 29-year-old Climax farmer who had his two children with him in the lead truck of the Mercy Wheat parade won a $25 war bond, while a man identified only as E. Engen of Finley, N.D., won a $50 bond for hauling grain the longest distance.

All this took place in the morning. By noon, LaGuardia, Anderson, the news media and the 5,000 spectators were gone.

Good, bad news

In the days following, farmers who got the message cranked out the wheat.

But then they ran into a familiar problem. They hauled their grain to elevators in Minnesota and the Dakotas, only to have to haul it home again because the elevators were plugged due to a shortage of boxcars.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to 241-5487; or e-mail